Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Confused Tale of Peter Leithart

I've read numerous works written by Peter Leithart and have followed his blog for a few years. I really enjoy some of his work, it has been inspirational, to put it strongly. However, Leithart, and others like him, suffer from a kind of schizophrenia in terms of theology and their placement in the affairs of the world. This is what I seek to outline without offering any explanation or solution.

Peter Leithart is a pastor attached to the PCA, though some might say nominally. He survived a witch hunt by the pathetic, ex-Reformed Jason Stellman. And I mean pathetic, it's a rather pitiable story that the staunch churchman loses his faith in the midst of an inquisition and becomes a Roman Catholic, the very thing charged against Leithart. But the law's the law, and Stellman was just following orders. It sounds like fiction. But I digress.

Leithart is intelligent and a rather gifted writer. He is able to make the rather bewildering and odd-ball theology of James Jordan digestible to a wider audience, a truly noble task. Despite my many disagreements with Jordan, it is truly a creative attempt to recover the Reformed tradition. Leithart has read wide and deep-ish. He presents many interesting takes that he incorporates into his thinking, or at least interacts with.

The most powerful (revolutionary?) concept Leithart has articulated is "evangelizing metaphysics". Now, I'm not sure whether this concept began with Leithart. In fact, I kind of doubt it. It's probably something he picked up in Eastern theology in the midst of the neo-Patristics movement. But regardless, he brought this concept to the fore among a Western theology audience (Roman Catholics & Protestants).

What "Evangelizing Metaphysics" introduces is the rather relativity of all metaphysics, and how the Christian gospel can invade these worlds and reassemble their pieces to better articulate the truth. One sees this in treatments of the Cappadocians. Rather than the old Harnackian thesis that Christianity became corrupted with Hellenistic forms, people are now seeing the creative reappropriation done by many Church fathers. Instead of captivity, these theologians mixed and matched Stoic, Platonic, Aristotelian etc. categories in order to present the Gospel in a particular milieu. This was creative appropriation.

The reason for explicating this term is that this concept, in a nutshell, sums up the positive of Leithart's work. He has written extensively about how the Gospel overturns the world, relativizes all attempts to assert a kind of divine society by man. However, this is not the only current within Leithart's project.

In fact, in someways it's contrary. Peter Leithart is also a reactionary conservative, given over to all the paranoia of the rhetoric. One can see this in two recent articles arguing (well, quoting, by quoting with affirmation) that Gay Marriage is hiding beneath it a Gender Totaliarianism and the eradicating of heterosexual marriage by erasing childbirth from definitions of marriage.

What does this have to do with the above? Because on the same day (3/31) Leithart can cite an author who spoke of Christians over turning the Roman social order by non-conformity to the Pantheon, and yet also quote an article that draws heavily on Natural law to support a social identity. It becomes a kind of exercise in incoherence.

Now, I'm not saying that Leithart wouldn't defend the two articles as making a singular argument. But it's kind of silly. One cannot become paranoid of social unrest as one celebrates social unrest. One cannot fault the persecution of a seemingly negligent minority when one implies the same. And of course, Leithart can hide these implications under free-speech, but please. What a government does not codify or enforce can equally become the law of the land through its silent condoning of behavior (namely abuse of homosexuals).

Leithart doesn't seem to see that the same Roman State that was overturned grounded itself in the kind of Natural theology that he relied upon. The reason certain Roman senators wanted to divorce/kill their Christian wives was because they refused to bear children. They were toppling the social order by doing so. Thus, if you want an argument for why marriage is a particular way, one cannot have their cake and eat it too.

Leithart seems to revel in a kind of post-modernism, liberal modernism, and a pre-modern Christendom all at the same time. It makes no sense, and the strands pull at each other. Of course, one can try to paint that vision, but it lacks all credibility. He just becomes the eccentric one alongside the "remnant" that is the Neushausist grumps that is First Things and their Benedict Option.

The reality is that I have no idea who Leithart is. Sometimes he sounds like an opportunist, doing what he can to get his name out there and leave a legacy, even if it requires seemingly talking out both sides of your mouth. Sometimes he sounds like a true visionary. But with his connections, and subsequent distancing, with Doug Wilson, and his mostly dishonest association with the PCA, I'm many more times inclined to the first. I don't blame him, it's hard to get your name out anymore.

I hope Leithart leaves a cadre of followers who reject much of his work and can carrying on the work of reform. This is my hope for many in what is deigned Reformed Orthodoxy, which is a strange combination of openness to listening to other intellectual traditions and reactionary fantasy of a Christendom that never was. I hope the former flourishes more and more, and the latter withers. But we do no know what the future holds. Many times vulgar politics triumphs. Many a sophisticated theology or philosophy has led to support for Republican or Democrat, and nothing more.

That's my hope for both Leithart and his disciples.

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